Do it yourself or outsource? How to make the most of your precious time to maximize the benefits to your business.
From bookkeeping, insurance and taxes to social media, web site creation and other marketing, home-based agents are business owners—and challenged with tasks that travel agent employees don’t face.
While a love of travel is a given, successfully managing a home-based travel business also calls on skill sets that might fall outside a travel agent’s wheelhouse. But the good news is that home-based agents have multiple options for getting those tasks done. In between the extremes of learning to do it all yourself and outsourcing everything are a plethora of options from host agencies, consortia, franchisors and supplier partners to streamline and simplify the core business processes.
To Do or Not to Do
While it might be tempting for new home-based agents to try to take on everything themselves, there can be a point of diminishing returns. In other words, is it worth your time to do everything yourself? The answer varies among agents, of course, but Kelley Austin, franchise owner, Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Services Representative based in Navasota, Texas, has one simple rule she follows: “If it’s something that will take me longer to do than close a simple sale, then my time is better spent bringing money into my agency than doing it,” she says.
What kinds of things might fall into that category? For Austin, one of those tasks is business accounting. “I outsource that,” she says. “One, I just don’t like to do it, but more importantly, in the time it would take me to do my monthly books, I can sell two or three or maybe even 10 trips. My time is better spent focusing on my core business than on accounting tasks.”
Still, even though she outsources the actual accounting, she does prepare the background materials. “Through Cruise Planners, I can run commission reports every month so my accounting fees are actually quite low because I can provide a lot of the documentation,” she says.
Chad Shields, co-owner with his wife Teresa Shields of Engage Vacations, based in Austin, Texas, also takes the approach that “There are some things that are better done by others—not just because of the time, but also the results. It can be worth the expense of outsourcing some services for the expertise.”
For example, when he made the move from being a home-based independent contractor for another agency to starting his own home-based agency with host agency Nexion, he says, “We decided we needed professional help to deal with the complexities of starting up a corporation.”
He also outsourced the creation of a logo and some other basic design elements as well as initial web site development and maintenance.
When it comes to ongoing responsibilities, Shields weighs the need for expertise against a desire to keep overhead low, a balancing act most home-based agents can appreciate. “As home-based agents, we have been intentional in trying to keep things as simple as possible,” he says. “Our goal was to start small, with low overhead and big returns. Teresa and I are both now top 50 agents with Nexion individually. We don’t want to turn away business so we are looking at the smartest way to grow without adding a lot of expenses. Every choice we make has to be rooted in a solid business decision.”
Austin, whose agency is a top producer with Cruise Planners, also makes her outsourcing decisions strategically, based on multiple factors. “Depending on what is going on in my world, I might outsource quite a few things at certain points,” she says. Examples can include design, mailing and RSVP tracking for special sales events; invitations and mailings for group travel; and custom spreadsheets for group tracking.
But she is very clear about what she will not outsource: “I would never outsource handling my clients’ bookings or maintenance—only back-end tasks that clients don’t see.”
One reason successful home-based agents can now choose to keep many tasks in-house is the increasing number of options from their host agencies, consortia, franchisors and travel supplier partners, geared specifically at simplifying everyday business tasks.
Lisa C. Deal, CTA, of Deal Travel and Cruises, a Uniglobe affiliated agency, has learned “to become very efficient at the things I’m doing” by using a mix of tools available to her. For example, she runs her back-office accounting through Uniglobe so she can pull reports for a variety of financial needs. And she books as much as possible through VAX VacationAccess, which she calls “one of the most fantastic sites out there, a seamless experience and trustworthy to work with.” She is also currently researching using supplier content for Facebook posts. “I haven’t started doing that yet, but it can be a great tool and I just need to research it a little more,” she says.
Austin uses a mix of content for her social media and marketing. She notes, for example, that Cruise Planners has great technology that allows her to keep track of all her clients’ birthdays so they all get a birthday card. “It’s that kind of technology that allows me to keep things like that in my own control that others might have to outsource,” she says.
And to create compelling social media posts, she works with a variety of tools at her disposal. She says that she had originally tried outsourcing her social media, “but my clients can tell if it’s my voice or not. They respond better to the authentic me.”
So while she now controls her own social media, she says, “I work very closely with tour operators and other suppliers on content and images. I want the photography to be beautiful and professional, the best possible.” Or she might share a post or image from a supplier, but add content that makes it more personal to her business and clients. “The booking is a very subtle part of my messaging,” she says. “I target my marketing and give people a compelling reason to share.”
In other cases, she might want to use a supplier photo and overlay her agency name and contact information, or call one of her BDMs for content for a client newsletter she creates. “Suppliers have so much usable content,” she says. “Sometimes it’s easily accessible and sometimes you can think outside the box and ask for what you need.”
In all cases, whether she is outsourcing, performing a task herself or working with supplier-sourced materials, Austin always makes sure to come back to her core messaging: “If you want to build a home-based business, you have to treat it like a business. My clients do business with me because they know what I stand for. Everything I do has to showcase the authentic me.”